Despite Greek shelter, Yazidis struggle to integrate

Yazidi refugees have a discussion as they sit outside at the Serres refugee camp, northern Greece, on November 24, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 02 December 2017
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Despite Greek shelter, Yazidis struggle to integrate

SERRES, Greece: Although Ibrahim Hondeta’s Yazidi family reached Greece a year ago after fleeing persecution, they still fear being the target of violence and are fighting to keep their community together.
Having run the gauntlet of invasion, combat, killings and enslavement by Daesh terrorists in Iraq, the members of this religious minority have found temporary shelter in the largely agricultural region of Serres in northern Greece.
The camp they have been allocated to is one of the best in the country — their prefabricated homes have air conditioning and solar panels to heat water. The grounds are clean and there is a playground for the children.
Many hope to be reunited with other Yazidis stranded in Greece, but with the country struggling to manage more than 50,000 refugees and migrants stranded on its territory, that is not always an option.
“Creating a camp just for Yazidis is neither possible nor viable,” said a Greek official with knowledge of refugee management efforts.
The camp can normally accommodate 700 people. At the moment there are some 350 Yazidis, most of them women and children, waiting for EU-sponsored relocation to other parts of Europe.
Greece’s policy is to move eligible refugees from overcrowded island camps — where they undergo identity checks upon arrival from Turkey — to the mainland, where more comfortable accommodation is available in better camps, UN-funded flats and hotels.
But the Yazidis, who have already faced an ordeal keeping their dwindling community together thus far, oppose this policy.
This is partly down to fear of other communities. They had a scare earlier this year, when a Yazidi celebration in Kilkis, another part of northern Greece, descended into violence between Arabs and Kurds.
“(The Arabs) threatened to kill us. They hunted us down with knives and clubs. We had to hide in a forest to save our lives,” says 55-year-old Hondeta, sitting on a bench outside the camp.
“After that, we asked to be given a safe place for our families and we ended up here together.”
Since that time, they have frustrated the Greek government’s attempts to bring in non-Yazidis.
They recently blocked the transfer of 60 Congolese and Senegalese mothers and their children to the Serres camp, the government official said.
All of them were Catholic.
In Athens, a migration ministry source said every effort is being made to facilitate and protect the Yazidis from possible harm.
“To my knowledge, there hasn’t been an incident in 10 months,” the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“But there are some people who chafe toward any attempt at integration,” the official said.
“Respecting one’s religious convictions, and using this issue to create sub-groups among the refugee population are two totally different things,” the government official in Athens said.
“Suppose Syrian Christians demand four camps for themselves? It’s not something that can be managed,” he added.
Rooted in Zoroastrianism, the Yazidis adhere to a faith that emerged in Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago but that has over time integrated elements of Islam and Christianity.
Of the world’s 1.5 million Yazidis, about 550,000 lived in Iraqi Kurdistan but some 400,000 have been displaced by fighting due to Daesh.
Around 1,500 have been killed and more than 3,000 are believed to remain in captivity, the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN rights office said in an August report.
In areas controlled by Daesh, thousands of women and girls from the Yazidi minority were used as sex slaves and suffered horrific abuse, including rape, abduction, slavery and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
The suffering the Yazidis have endured explains why community elders in Serres have written to the migration ministry to officially request that the camp be assigned to Yazidis alone.
“We ask for our community not to be disturbed and to live here in safety until we depart,” says Hajjdar Hamat, a self-styled spokesman for the Yazidis at the camp.
“Everybody knows about our peoples’ genocide. We did not come from Sinjar to Greece for fun. Europe must protect us,” says Hamat.


Kosovo returns families of militants from Syria

Updated 32 min 12 sec ago
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Kosovo returns families of militants from Syria

  • More than 300 Kosovo citizens, men, women and children, have traveled to Syria since 2012
  • Police said some 150 women and children, including around 60 children that were born in war zones, were captured

PRISTINA: Dozens of women and children, relatives of Kosovo militants fighting in Syria, were flown back home by plane on Saturday under heavy security.
“The planned operation for the return of some of our citizens from Syria has ended successfully,” Justice Minister Abelrad Tahiri said at the airport early on Saturday.
Details would be released later in the day, he said.
After hours at the airport, two buses with women and children were transported under police escort to army barracks just outside Pristina.
More than 300 Kosovo citizens, men, women and children, have traveled to Syria since 2012. Some 70 men who fought alongside extremist militant groups were killed.
Police said some 150 women and children, including around 60 children that were born in war zones, were captured as Daesh lost ground.
It remained unclear if all of them were returned on Friday. Neither the minister nor police gave any details if any fighters were also returned.
International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
Kosovo’s population is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but largely secular in outlook.
There have been no Islamist attacks on its soil, although more than 100 men have been jailed or indicted on charges of fighting in Syria and Iraq. Some of them were found guilty of planning attacks in Kosovo.
The government said a form of radical Islam had been imported to Kosovo by non-governmental organizations from the Middle East after the end of its 1998-99 war of secession from Serbia.